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TEA PRIMER


Tea types are determined by their mode of processing: Black, Oolong, Green, or White. Other designations refer to the location in which they are grown; e.g., Sri Lanka(i.e.,Ceylon), Darjeeling, etc.  They all come from the Camellia Sinensis plant.

                          

Camellia sinensis is an evergreen shrub, which, if left to grow wild, can reach heights of more than thirty feet. On farms, tea bushes are generally kept trimmed to a comfortable picking height of two to four feet. The bark is rough and slightly gray. The leaves are serrated, dark green and elliptical, formed on short stalks. Young leaves have a light hair that is prized in certain high quality teas. Small white flowers are sparse. Seeds are contained within a smooth, round, three-celled hull, like a small nut.

Tea originates in China, probably near the Yunnan/Vietnam border. Cultivation of the plant spread through China and into Taiwan and Japan. In the 1800’s, Englishman Robert Fortune explored China disguised as a Chinese merchant. During his journey, Fortune learned the secrets of growing and processing tea. The British soon exported tea seeds and tea-growing technology to India. There, they discovered Camillia sinensis assamicas, a second varietal of the tea plant. The assamica plant has bigger leaves and grows better in the low plains of India. The Chinese plant is better suited to its higher elevations and a tougher climate. Today, most tea plants are a hybrid of these two genetic varietals. The many types of true tea, among them Green, Oolong, Black, White and Pu-erh, are distinguished by the techniques by which they are processed, Tea is now grown in significant commercial quantities on every continent except Europe and North America.

 

Description

  A small evergreen shrub cultivated to a height of 7 to 8 feet, but growing wild up to 30 feet high, much branched. Bark rough, grey. Leaves dark green, lanceolate or elliptical, on short stalks, blunt at apex, base tapering, margins shortly serrate, young leaves hairy, older leaves glabrous. Flowers solitary or two or three together on short branchlets in the leaf axils, somewhat drooping, on short stalks with a few small bracts, 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide; sepals five, imbricate, slightly united below, ovate or rounded, blunt smooth, persistent; petals usually five or up to nine, unequal, strongly rounded, concave, spreading, white, caducous; stamens indefinite, adherent to petals at base in two rows, filaments fiexuose, half the length of petals; anthers large, versatile; ovary small, free, conical, downy, threecelled with three or four pendulous ovules in each cell; styles three distinct or combined at base, slender simple stigmas. Fruit a smooth, flattened, rounded, trigonous three-celled capsule; seed solitary in each cell; size of a small nut.

It was formerly supposed that black and green tea were the produce of distinct plants, but they are both prepared from the same plant. Green tea is prepared by exposing the gathered leaves to the air until superfluous moisture is eliminated, when they are roasted over a brisk wood fire and continually stirred until they become moist and flaccid; after this they pass to the rolling table, and are rolled into balls and subjected to pressure which twists them and gets rid of the moisture; they are then shaken out on flat trays, again roasted over a slow and steady charcoal fire, and kept in rapid motion for an hour to an hour and a half, till they assume a dullish green colour. After this they are winnowed, screened, and graded into different varieties. With black tea, the gathered leaves are exposed to the air for a longer period, then gathered up and tossed until soft and flaccid, and after further exposure, roasted in an iron pan for about five minutes. After rolling and pressing, they are shaken out, exposed to the outer air for some hours, re-roasted for three or four minutes, rerolled, spread out in baskets and exposed to the heat of a charcoal fire for five or six minutes and then rolled for the third time and again heated, and finally dried in baskets over charcoal fires, from which process they become black in colour. China is the great tea-producing country, over four million acres of ground being devoted to its cultivation. In India also it is a very important product.

 

Constituents Caffeine (theine), tannin (10 to 20 per cent gallotannic acid), boheic acid, volatile oil, aqueous extract, protein wax, resin, ash and theophylline.

 

Medicinal Action and Uses -- Stimulant, astringent. It exerts a decided influence over the nervous system, generally evinced by a feeling of comfort and exhilaration; it also causes unnatural wakefulness when taken in quantity. Taken moderately by healthy individuals it is harmless, but in excessive quantities it will produce unpleasant nervous and dyspeptic symptoms, the green variety being decidedly the more injurious. Tea is rarely used as a medicine, but, the infusion is useful to relieve neuralgic headaches.

 

Tea Types

All tea comes from one plant, Camellia sinensis. The differences in the many teas we have -- whites, greens, oolongs, blacks, pu-erhs and yellow -- is in the specific varietal that was used, the local environment the tea was grown in, and the way it was processed.

 

 

WHITE TEA White tea is minimally processed; it is generally only picked and air dried. The highest-quality white teas are picked early in the spring before the leaf buds have opened and while still covered with silkywhite hair. The traditional varietals used for white tea have abundant downy hair on the young leaf shoots. These delicate teas have clear flavors that tend toward savory, nutty, and vegetal. Traditionally harvested in China, they are the focus of many studies on health benefits for their high levels of antioxidants.

 

GREEN TEA Green tea is picked and quickly heated by steaming or pan firing. The goodness of the leaf is sealed inside. Green tea has a short life span - it doesn't stay fresh long. The most well-known greens come from China and Japan. The flavors are grassy, vegetal, nutty, and sweet. Because the leaf is so delicate, the tea should be brewed in water that is well below boiling to prevent cooking the leaves and destroying the subtle notes of the tea.

 

OOLONG TEA Oolong tea is oxidized and often rolled after picking, allowing the essential oils to react with the air. This process turns the leaf darker and produces distinctive fragrances before heat is added to set the taste. The resulting tea can be anywhere between a green and a black tea, depending on the processing method. Oolongs can be recognized by their large leaves and a complexity of flavor that ranges from highly floral and intensely fruity to mildly roasted with honey nuances. The tea maker must carefully balance many elements in the critical few hours after the leaf is picked including weather conditions, quality of the leaf, and the time the leaf oxidizes. The finest oolongs are often prepared and enjoyed Gong Fu style to savor their complex tastes and fragrances.

 

BLACK TEA Black tea, or red tea as it is known in China, is a result of the complete oxidation of the leaf. First produced in China, the tea increased in popularity when the British cultivated the plant in India, Sri Lanka, and Africa. First the leaf is spread out and left to wither (wilt), losing some moisture, stiffness and much of its weight. Then it's rolled, exposing essential oils to the air and starting the oxidization process. When this is complete the leaf is heated to stop the process, graded for quality and packed. Black teas are known for their robust, full-bodied flavors of cocoa, earth, molasses, and honey.

 

PU-ERH TEA Pu-erh tea is aged, post-fermented, and often compressed into bricks. Its name comes from the town of Pu-erh in Southwestern China. Pu-erhs have a strong earthy taste that gains complexity over time. Some prized pu-erh teas are more than 50 years old and are very rare. Drunk for centuries by the Chinese, pu-erh is said to lower cholesterol, aid digestion, and cure hangovers.

 

YELLOW  TEA The rarest of all types of Chinese Tea, Yellow tea is relatively unknown and very difficult to find. It is believed that the tea was first produced during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Similar to White Tea, Yellow Tea is harvested early in the spring when the leaves are still in their bud form. This leaves a very small window in which the tea can be picked. The buds have high levels of antioxidants and the processing technique allow the tea to have a higher level of antioxidants than most types of tea. The buds are then fried to stop oxidation and then the leaves are wrapped in a special paper and stored in wooden boxes. Periodically the tea is refried and rewrapped in paper. The process takes around three days. The leaves are then slowly roasted. Due to the limited harvesting time and complicated processing, it is easy to see why this tea has had a hard time surviving. It is simply easier to produce Green Teas, and the economy of the regions where this tea is produced is fairly poor, so Green Tea is the obvious choice for most Tea farmers.

 

HERBAL INFUSIONS Herbal infusions, or tisanes, are not teas. They are made from other plants and flowers, and they do not contain any caffeine. Common examples are lemon verbena, chamomile, lavender, and mint.

       

TEA GRADING NOMENCLATURE

SFTGFOP .......................... Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

FTGFOP ....................................... Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

TGFOP .................................................. Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

GFOP ............................................................ Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

FOP ......................................................................... Flowery Orange Pekoe

OP ...................................................................................... Orange Pekoe

FP ...................................................................................... Flowery Pekoe

P ................................................................................................... Pekoe

PS .................................................................................... Pekoe Souchong

Preparing Fine Tea

Preparing a good cup of loose-leaved tea is neither difficult nor time-consuming.

Simply follow the five steps listed below.

Five steps for preparing tea:

1. Use a preheated teapot. In the absence of a teapot, any odorless, heat-resistant pot will suffice (at least temporarily).

2. Add the recommended amount of tea leaves per cup. Experiment with the leaf quality to suit your taste.

3. For black and oolong teas, bring fresh cold water to a roaring boil and pour it over the tea leaves. For white and green teas, use water that has just started to steam slightly.

4. Allow black tea to infuse for 3 to 5 minutes, green for 1 to 3 minutes, and white and oolong for 2 to 5 minutes. Adjust the brewing to your taste. If the tea turns out to be bitter or harsh, it is often a sign of overbrewing.

5. Separate the leaves from the tea and serve. Most green, oolong, and other loose teas are good for multiple infusions - just add new hot water and increase the steeping time slightly. Repeat until the flavour starts to fade.

         TEA... The Most Consumed Beverage In The World